How To Create Genuine Relationships With Customers

Genuine customer relationships are what matter.  Period.  As they say, the truth shall set you free (If you’ll let it).

If we look…and listen, to what is happening all around us, we will see the incontrovertible truth, as well as a path forward for this time of radical transition, all around us. What is the truth?  Genuine relationships are what matter.  Period.  As they say, the truth shall set you free (If you’ll let it).

I’ll prove it

How many years did you spend secretly (or not secretly), hating the posturing and pretense associated with the 9 corporate meetings you had each and every day?  How much time and effort did you put into vanity, driven not by what made you happy, but how your image mattered more to others than your ideas and accomplishments?

How many nights do you (still!) throw your arms up in exhaustion at the exact same, annoying, misleading and hyperbole based advertisements hit you again….and again…..AND AGAIN?  Until a few months ago, how often did you come across a regional or large scale business that seemed to genuinely care about you?  How many companies do you find spamming you with email and product recommendations that are irrelevant, in the belief that is somehow understanding you as a person?

Speaking of recommendations….how many times does a brand and its marketing claim to understand you, when in reality they have no idea who you are and what you want at the time they decide to shout at you?  “Just for you”  “Our picks, just for you!”  and a litany of other bad headlines that seem to think you are nothing but what you last looked at on a website…

I could go on, but I think most will agree…this is a pretty fair representation of the marketing that brands force upon us all the time.  As consumers, we tend to ignore and resent it for obvious reasons; even as marketers (and I’m one of them) doubled and tripled down on these strategies over the years; falsely believing that it was how personal they were being that was driving their business growth and performance.

The Veil has fallen

Now, however, for all the bad things going on in the world, there are some distinctly positive things starting to happen at the very same time.

Farther apart yet closer together is a phrase heard, and experienced every day now, and what a joy it is.  No one cares what you are wearing, or how “Professional” the environment for your meeting (or conference call) is..Cat in the video?  Kid screaming in the background?  No Makeup?  NO ONE CARES!  In fact, these are now seen as good things….endearing events that bring people closer together by showing the genuine aspects of our personalities.  And we love it.

Sure, there are still lots of annoying advertisements and marketing campaigns out there, but what is standing out are not the purpose built, crafted and polished ads, but the genuine moments, interactions and shared good-will that is endearing people to the companies that express these and are living the value system they espouse.

I could list lots of companies, but what’s the point?  You each know the brands that are getting this right, and you each are experiencing every day how being genuine, transparent and selfless are creating the moments and experiences that really matter to you.  And what’s more, the brands you are thinking of, are the ones having some success.  Not just in sales, but far more importantly, in the impact they are having on their customers lives….and there is the trick…the proof, if you will….by genuinely focusing on customers, not transactions….by supporting people, not technology, and by having faith that taking care of others is the right thing to do, and will lead to success, brands can, and are winning, even in these difficult times.

Your brand can win too

Hopefully it is clear that there is no true magic wand…no really secret sauce you need to invent to be successful.  And that’s because it’s already here.  Practicing trust, transparency and being genuine in your customer interactions will lead you down the right path.

But how to do this at scale?  For a large scale brand with multiple locations, massive customer lists and more, it can be hard to scale the local, in-person type relationships that can be cultivated by the local hardware store, coffee shop or hair salon.

The good news is, the approach is the same, regardless of your size.  The execution is just a bit different.  Data is what drives your business.  The local bakery collects their data in-person.  Larger brands can cultivate this by focusing on the right type of data, and using it for the right purpose.  Large brands are relatively adept at using data too.  They’ve been collecting 3rd party, 2nd party and 1st party data for decades.  What needs to change is the TYPE of data being collected, how it is collected and in what way it is used to engage with customers and make decisions.

Much like we have falsely believed that a “Buttoned up” approach to meetings and conference calls was really important, brands have falsely believed that data generated by people (1st party data) is by definition personal.  It is not.  Not by a long-shot.

Unlocking the real potential of your customer relationships

Who we work for, where we live, what music we like and what products we buy, etc. are aspects of our lives, but they do not define who we are and what we desire.  Actions we take, events we participate in, methods of earning a living, products we buy…these are all data points not about who we are….we are more than the total of these actions.  They are merely indicators of things going on in our lives; of discrete topics and issues we are dealing with at any giving moment.

Just because I bought bird-seed in bulk last week, does not make me a bird watcher any more than it makes me a rancher or a plan biologist….I bought bird seed because I wanted to find ways for my cat to be entertained and fulfilled by being able to watch birds.  I am not a bird watcher…I am a person who cares deeply about taking care of those around me.  That is what drives my purchases in this area.  Understanding the difference between these is the difference between building a lasting (and profitable) relationship with me, and spending untold amounts of marketing money spamming me for the next 6 months, only to see your profit drop and business stagnate.

Understanding and then making the changes necessary to successfully sell to customers in this situation requires a few things:

  1. Get the real information from customers, not just the clickstream. Create experiences and interactions that are transparent, founded on trust and rooted in genuine care for customers, and you can get the deeper level information that really sets you and your customers apart.  Don’t just observe the clicks made on a website, ask for real and unique information you can only get directly from the customer
  2. Make this a two-way process.  Effective communication is two-way, and it requires fairness and equity.  Be willing to give at least as much as you get.  It’s true of personal friendships and it’s true of customer relationships too.  This does not mean you have to always give discounts….that’s actually very impersonal and often counter productive.  Whatever you decide to give in return for personal information….rewards, access, recognition, content, knowledge, and yes, even discounts at times; make it a genuine and fair value exchange.  Customers will recognize this and embrace you for it
  3. Build long-term relationships, not a series of automated messages.  No one likes the acquaintance you only calls once a year when they need help moving some old furniture and the same is true for customer relationships.  If you only communicate when YOU need something, you do not have a relationship, you have an acquaintance.  By building stories and experiences that connect and build upon themselves over time, as your deepest relationships do, you can engage customers and create mutual value that lets you both succeed.

I hope this was helpful.  If you’d like to dig in some more, I’d love to chat.  There are also some great resources out there from folks doing this right…People who have proven this can be done and who live and breath it every day.

One such organization I would encourage you to also reach out to, and that I have been fortunate to be involved with is 3radical.  The technology and strategic solutions they are providing around earned data and how to leverage that for true business transformation are inspiring and cutting edge.  Their latest paper (Full disclosure, yours truly is quoted in the piece), is a great read.  If you want to dive deeper, you can download their paper here.

Here’s to a more engaged and fulfilling tomorrow!

kevin bauerKevin Bauer is founder and CEO of Kessel Digital, a boutique customer data & strategy firm.

This article originally appeared on Kessel Digital. Photo by Niver Vega on Unsplash.

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